Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Episode Resources

True Woman blog: Driving with Rosaria Butterfield: An Encounter with Gospel-Driven Hospitality

Leslie Basham: When Rosaria Butterfield was invited to the home of a pastor and his wife, here's what she expected:

Rosaria Butterfield: I figured, Okay, here are evangelical Christians, and I am a lesbian atheist. I am a project. They're going to have to get the gospel in, and an invitation to church in, and some good scourging about my sexual sin in before I get back in my car because I might get hit by a car driving the mile home to my house, and then it would be all their responsibility, because that's what I thought Christians believed.

Leslie: What she discovered was something very different. This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth for Friday, February 5, 2016.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Well, you've often heard me say here on Revive Our Hearts that I love living under providence. I really do. The fact that God looks ahead. He knows what's coming. He's ordained it. And He sees before us and then makes provision for that future for us.

And so in God's providence, the night before last, I received a text from a dear friend letting me know that Rosaria Butterfield was in the area speaking here in Southwest Michigan. I said, "I wish I'd known about that!" Rosaria, you're sitting here with me in the studio now.

Rosaria: The Lord knew.

Nancy: You thought you were going to be back home in North Carolina by now. I got in touch with you and said, "Could you change your flight? Could we get you here in the studio?" I've been so eager to meet you!

Rosaria: Oh, and I you! This is delightful.

Nancy: We have a lot of mutual friends.

Rosaria: Yes.

Nancy: In fact, your agent, Robert Wolgemuth is now my husband. And who knew? Who could have planned this? Only providence. Right?

Rosaria: Oh, yes, amen.

Nancy: Thank you for being willing to come into the studio to talk with us here today on Revive Our Hearts. Twenty-four hours ago, we didn't know we were going to be together and talking about this.

Rosaria: But the Lord did.

Nancy: He did, and I'm so thankful. I'm thinking, in a sense, that we are twins separated at birth because in just the little bit of time we've had together, we've discovered so many things we have in common, and yet our backgrounds are so very different—could hardly be more different.

Rosaria: Radically different, yes.

Nancy: And that's what the gospel does.

Rosaria: Amen.

Nancy: It gives us more in common than we could ever have imagined apart from Christ.

Rosaria: Right.

Nancy: And for those of our listeners who are not familiar with you, I'm yacking on here like everybody knows who you are, and a lot of our listeners do, but I've wanted for a long time to have you on our program, to get our listeners to know you. What I neglected to mention is that you are a wife.

Rosaria: I am.

Nancy: And your husband, Kent Butterfield, is a pastor.

Rosaria: Yes.

Nancy: And you're the mom of four children.

Rosaria: That is correct.

Nancy: And you homeschool the younger ones of those children.

Rosaria: Yes.

Nancy: So your life is very full.

Rosaria: It is.

Nancy: Full of grace, full of Christ, full of His Word, and His Word came and transformed your life.

Rosaria: Yes, it did.

Nancy: We're going to talk about that. God has given you a real powerful ministry today, speaking into this whole culture, the thinking on sexual identity, and we'll talk more about that, but welcome to Revive Our Hearts.

You say in your testimony that your conversion to Christianity felt a bit like an alien abduction and a train wreck.

Rosaria: Right—both of those things.

Nancy: Why?

Rosaria: Well, it just came about in such an unlikely way. I was very happy in my life. I was in a committed lesbian relationship. I was happy in my job. I was a professor at a large research university. I was happy in my extended life. In fact, your listeners might not know, but the lesbian and gay community is a community given to hospitality. And actually, I honed the hospitality gifts I use today in my gay and lesbian community.

And so, I was really quite happy. The only thing I was unhappy with was why Christians would not leave consenting adults alone. That baffled me. So after I completed my research requirements to receive tenure, I embarked on a research project examining the religious rights from a lesbian feminist point of view.

Nancy: And needless to say, you weren't seeing them in a positive light.

Rosaria: Oh, no. My only contact with Christians were people who held up placards at gay pride marches who looked quite happy that me and everyone I loved would be going to hell. No, I wasn't. I was stymied and threatened and a little frightened.

Nancy: And what were you hoping to prove by that research?

Rosaria: Well, I was hoping to prove that the Bible itself was an untenable witness. I'm an English professor, so I'm not an anthropologist. I don't go to conferences and interview people and say, "Hey, how do you feel about Jesus?" I am an English professor.

Nancy: You study books.

Rosaria: I study books. And specifically, I am what's called a whole-book scholar. So my job is to size up a book and to understand all of the components to it that make it legitimate. And I really thought this would be a slam-dunk. This is an illegitimate book, and since Christians used it as a proof and source as trust in God, I thought it would be fairly easy to dismantle.

Nancy: And then it would undermine the Christian faith and practice.

Rosaria: Absolutely.

Nancy: So in the course of setting out to do that, Promise Keepers had an event that came to your community there in Syracuse.

Rosaria: Yes, they did.

Nancy: And what did you think about all that? Some of you remember, this was a movement of conferences oriented toward helping men to be more faithful to the Lord and to their families.

Rosaria: Right.

Nancy: And that didn't hit you right.

Rosaria: And I think from a Christian perspective, that is what the Promise Keepers were, but from a feminist perspective, the Promise Keepers were a kind of circus celebration of patriarchy. And feminism itself sees patriarchy as the source of any number of problems for women, including a long range of things, including wife abuse and inequality in work places and everything else.

Nancy: So men are the oppressors.

Rosaria: And patriarchy as a system is an oppressive system. So men might be oppressors. They might be victims in that system. But either way, I was in a war against patriarchy. Promise Keepers came to town, and I decided to write an Op-Ed in my local newspaper. And so I did.

Nancy: And what was the gist of that?

Rosaria: The gist of the piece was that Promise Keepers were a dangerous and unthinking group, and then a little bit like other ministries, I think I mentioned Focus on the Family in there, and if I had known about Revive Our Hearts, I might have mentioned that. Just the idea that women should be submitted to men, that somehow God was going to speak through that, what I perceived to be an oppressive order, was the worst of the worst. And so my gist is that Christians were assuming a kind of unearned kudos from a dangerous way of thinking.

Nancy: That was rooted in an unreliable source—the Bible.

Rosaria: Yes. It was rooted in an unreliable source and practiced in an unreliable and dangerous way, and so I wrote this Op-Ed.

Nancy: What kind of response did you get?

Rosaria: Oh. I got a lot of responses. Many, many rejoinders. So many that I kept a Xerox box (remember back in the day those Xerox boxes?)

Nancy: I do.

Rosaria: I kept a Xerox box on both sides of my desk—one for hate mail, and one for fan mail.

Nancy: Which did you get more of?

Rosaria: You know what? I tend to not read either, and I still don't to this day. I'm a scholar. I find it very distracting. I think a lot before I write something, and feedback tends to . . .

Nancy: You didn't pay too much attention to it.

Rosaria: I didn't pay too much attention to it. I'd read, like, the first paragraph, and I'd file it. I remember being more sensitive to the hate mail because it was more threatening.

Nancy: There was one letter that you didn't know which pile to put it in.

Rosaria: Right. So I got this one letter from Pastor Ken Smith, the pastor of the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church.

Nancy: It was just a name to you. You didn't know him at all.

Rosaria: Right. It was just a name, but the first paragraph made me want to read the rest of it. It was a kind letter. It was an inquiring letter. It was quite clear he did not agree with me, but he had some things to say about the Bible and about life that made me think he might be . . . It was kind of like, "Wow! I wonder how he arrived at these conclusions?"

It was somewhat intriguing, but, at the same time, because it was intriguing, it was more threatening than hate mail or fan mail. So I quickly got it right out of my office and threw it away. I put it in the recycling bin—don't think I'm some kind of environmental pervert or something. It went right in the recycling bin, and there it stayed for the rest of the day.

At the end of the day, I found myself continuing to think about this letter. So at the end of the day, there I was on my hands and knees, digging through the recycling bin of the English Department of a large research university. I found the letter, and I pulled it out, and I stuck it back in my desk. I felt like I needed to confront some of the things that were in it.

Nancy: You said it was the kindest letter of opposition that you'd ever received.

Rosaria: Yes. It was.

Nancy: You said there was something about the tone that captured you.

Rosaria: Right. And that's the thing, too, about the gospel that I couldn't put my finger on it then. I can put my finger on it now. Part of why the gospel itself is disarming is it matches a tone with a conviction that don't line up right.

And so, in his letter, Ken wrote to me like I was not a blank slate, like I was not some kind of a dangerous idiot. He respected me as a person who had thought deeply and hard about these conclusions, but he also disagreed with me.

Nancy: And you couldn't just readily dismiss that.

Rosaria: I could not readily dismiss that.

Nancy: And so after a week you contacted him.

Rosaria: I did. He asked me to call him back, and I did. I was a little nervous about that.

Nancy: What were you thinking might come out of that?

Rosaria: Well, it's kind of embarrassing. I was thinking a couple of things. Part of me was just voyeuristically curious: "How do Christians really live?" I'd never seen it. I mean, "What do Christians do when they close the door? What is it like in their home?" How bizarre is that?

But the other part of me really thought, Well, I'm reading the Bible for research. I am not a scholar of the Bible. I do not read Greek or Hebrew. I understand romance languages. Maybe this is somebody who could help me.

Nancy: With your research.

Rosaria: Maybe this is like an unpaid research assistant. He seems like a kind of nice guy. So I'll give him a call.

Nancy: What did you say when you gave him a call?

Rosaria: Well, I said, "Hello. This is Rosaria Champagne from Syracuse University." He sort of acted as if he had just been sitting there waiting for my call, and we had a delightful conversation. At the end of the conversation, he said, "I'd really like to discuss some of those matters that you are addressing."

When I called him, I thought I was interviewing him, so I had a series of questions: Are you an evangelical Christian? What does that mean? Do you think I'm going to hell? I had a series of questions. I was not looking to make a new pen pal.

Nancy: With a pastor.

Rosaria: With a pastor—no way!

He said, "Why don't we take this conversation over the dinner table, and you can meet my wife, and that would be great." Then it was like he caught himself, and he said, "But if that would be threatening to come to my home, we could meet in a restaurant."

It was that sort of quickness with which he generously thought about what I would need to be comfortable that was really startling. I just didn't expect that. But I was able to say to him, "Well, no. Actually, the lesbian and gay community is a community highly given to hospitality. I routinely have people at my dinner table with whom I disagree for the very same reason: We could talk openly. I would love to go to your house. Where do you live? What can I bring?"

Nancy: Wow! So between that time and the time you showed up for dinner, did you have any second thoughts?

Rosaria: Well, I did. And some of my friends were kind of worried for me. "Is that dangerous? Are these dangerous people? Are those the people who hold up placards at gay pride marches?" I really didn't know, and so I was a little bit worried.

Nancy: But you went.

Rosaria: I went. I had this stick'em on my desk that has gotten me into a whole boatload of trouble in life, quite frankly, and it said: "I would rather be wrong on an important point that right on a trivial one."

What that means is I'm a scholar first and foremost, and I had questions that need to be answered. Here's a man that thinks that he has answers that come from this book, the Bible. And I think trusting the Bible is like, "It's a boat with holes," is what I would say to people. I had some questions that I wanted answered, and I really didn't have anyone else who could answer those questions.

Nancy: Had you ever read the Bible?

Rosaria: You know, I hadn't. Isn't that interesting? I had read snippets of it, but I had never read it cover to cover.

Nancy: The whole-book scholar.

Rosaria: No, I hadn't. That was one of the things I as planning on doing. But one of the things I wanted to talk to Christians who had studied the Bible is: How do they go about reading the Bible? It did occur to me that this is a very different book than any of the other books I was used to. In fact, to me, in just kind of flipping through it and angling myself in position to it, it seemed like it was really more like a library than a book.

So I was curious to know what kind of foot holes Christians used because that was part of my research question: How did this Book, the Bible, and how did this man, Jesus, get so many well-meaning people off track?

I didn't believe in original sin. I was a child of Rousseau. I believed we were all born good. So for Christians to become hate mongering zealots, obviously something terribly had to happen to take them off the course of their, what I would have called in the day, primordial divinity or original goodness.

Nancy: So, armed with this way of thinking, this paradigm, and your whole backdrop, you show up at the Smith's home.

Rosaria: Yes, I do. I show up at the Smith's home.

Nancy: Is it just the three of you that night?

Rosaria: It was. Well, it's funny, because their home was a lot like my home, and is a lot like my home now. There's a lot of ministry that went on in their home. But I do think that first night there was just the three of us.

Nancy: People coming and going a lot at mine, too.

Rosaria: Yes, people coming and going, dropping off Bibles, picking up meals. It was sort of like the Central Station for Christian ministry.

Nancy: They'd carved out an evening for you.

Rosaria: Yes, they had. I realized that was quite a sacrifice once I got to know them better.

Nancy: How did it go, that first night?

Rosaria: It was wonderful.

Nancy: Did it seem wonderful at the time?

Rosaria: Yes. It did.

Nancy: You were comfortable?

Rosaria: I was. They're such good hosts.

Nancy: How so?

Rosaria: Well, they . . . I mean, I was sort of duped by a few things. They did not have air conditioning. I did not have air conditioning in my house. When you live in the North, not everyone does have air conditioning. I believed that the ozone layer was being harmed by all these air conditioners, and so even though it was really hot, it was fine. And I was grateful.

And Floy had served a very simple vegetarian meal. We didn't talk about dietary issues, but I much preferred to eat a vegetarian meal because I believed at the time that animals were on the same scale as humans. So I did not believe that eating meat was a moral thing to do.

We had a lively conversation. They didn't treat me like a blank slate. I was a little afraid that I was going to have a hard time getting a word in edgewise because I figured, Okay, here are evangelical Christians, and I am a lesbian atheist. I am a project. They're going to have to get the gospel in, and an invitation to church in, and some good scourging about my sexual sin in before I get back in my car because I might get hit by a car driving the mile home to my house, and then it would be all their responsibility, because that's what I thought Christians believed.

So I really thought, I've got my questions. I better get my word in. But they . . . it was almost as though they were there to listen and answer my questions.

Nancy: So you did ask your questions.

Rosaria: I did, but I was a little bit disarmed by the fact that what I thought would be a sparring match and a debate was absolutely not going to be that.

Nancy: It was a conversation.

Rosaria: It was a gentle conversation. I had not had much time around men in general, but I had had zero time around a godly man. There was no man in my life that had ever treated me the way that Ken did. It was palpable. It was discernable, not with just what he said but how he approached me—his gentleness, his looking me in the eye, his treating me like I wasn't Exhibit A of what not to be in the world.

Nancy: It sounded like he treated you with respect.

Rosaria: He did.

Nancy: Because his theology told him that you were a woman made in the image of God.

Rosaria: That's right. Even though I didn't know that or believe that, everything that Ken was going to do from that first unlikely meeting in his home to, quite frankly, years later when he walked me down the aisle when I married my husband, Kent Butterfield, every conversation we had would be mediated through his Lord and Savior and then eventually my Lord and Savior.

Nancy: And he didn't invite you to church that first meeting.

Rosaria: No. It was so funny. We had this lively conversation, and it was a great conversation, and I learned a lot. But at the end, "Goodnight. Thank you." And what he said was, "I'd like to do this again. Let's do this again. I'd like to help you. If you're going to read this Bible for your research, I'd like to help you."

He did not invite me to church, and he did not share the gospel, which made me wonder if I was chopped liver. But it also made me comfortable because it made me realize that I wasn't a project. This was not friendship evangelism. This was friendship.

Nancy: This was friendship. Yes, yes. And so that conversation continued.

Rosaria: Oh, it did.

Nancy: Over the next couple of years. Right?

Rosaria: It did. That's right. I was once interviewed recently by someone who said, "And how long did Ken Smith hang in with you, a heathen? Was it two weeks?" I just laughed. Anyone hear of the perseverance of the saints?

Nancy: Seriously.

Rosaria: No. It was two years. And it was two tumultuous years. It was two painful years.

Nancy: In what sense?

Rosaria: Well, I had a lot of hard-around-the-edges questions, and I took a lot of time. And certainly it was hard for me because this Bible was starting to undo me. I read through the Bible about seven times in those two years, and I had a lot of questions. And Ken almost acted as though he had nothing else going on in his life but to answer those.

Nancy: So this was time consuming for Ken and Floy Smith.

Rosaria: Ken and Floy gave me pricey time, not spare time.

Nancy: So was there more than meals?

Rosaria: Oh, yes. There were meals, and then I met any number of other people from their church, but I met them at their home. I met a man in the church who had had a very similar sordid sexual past, but he had made Jesus his life, and that was intriguing to me.

I met any number of people who also worked at the university. I didn't know that. I thought we owned—we the left, the liberal left—owned the university. I had no idea there were so many praying Christians and intellectual Christians.

Nancy: In fact, it turned out that that church had been praying for the university for years.

Rosaria: It did, for years. That's right. And praying for the university in the right way. I mean, let me say that when the Lord convicted me of my sin, and I came running to the Lord, I didn't have to stop there and ( you know, back in the days of the phone book) open my phone book and find a new church. I could run to the Lord, and I could flee into the arms of the brothers and sisters who had been praying for me because they prayed for me as a child of God, an image bearer of the holy God, a woman who, while not reflecting God's image and knowledge and righteousness and holiness, certainly could.

Nancy: Well, we're going to pick up this conversation on the next Revive Our Hearts. There's more to it.

Rosaria: Yes.

Nancy: It's such a joy, Rosaria, to see how the Lord began to draw your heart through the kindness of people who called themselves Christians and really lived that.

Rosaria: Yes, they did.

Nancy: The thoughtfulness, the willingness to take time to be there, to bring you into their home. I'm thinking when Ken wrote that first letter, he could have not had any sense of where all this was going to go and how God was going to use that kindness.

Rosaria: Right.

Nancy: But in God's providence, He did, and here we're sitting, and you're a trophy of God's grace. And thanks to the Holy Spirit, but thanks to some believers who lived out the gospel. I'm thinking, How like Jesus was the course that they took.

Rosaria: That's right.

Nancy: Isn't that what He's calling us to be and to do in our community and in our neighborhood?

Rosaria: That's right.

Nancy: To be the hands and heart and feet of Jesus, to make the gospel believable to the least likely to believe.

Rosaria: That's right. Amen.

Nancy: Well, I think having just heard this much of Rosaria's testimony, you're going to want a copy of her book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor's Journey into Christian Faith. It's available for a donation of any amount to the ministry of Revive Our Hearts.

Leslie: To get your copy of The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, visit our website ReviveOurHearts.com, or ask for it when you call 1–800–569–5959. We'll send one book per household for your donation of any size.

I hope you'll join us again Monday. We'll hear how Rosaria continued exploring what the Bible had to say and find out how God's Word was leading her to a 180° turn. Rosaria will join us again all next week on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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